February 12, 1863
—The Federal ironclad ram, USS Queen of the West, has free rein on the Mississippi River, in between Port Hudson and Vicksburg, and has been scooping up prizes and disrupting Confederate river traffic in the crucial trade between the western and eastern states. With its coal bunkers full (from a sneak run of the USS De Soto and a coal barge past the guns of Vicksburg at night), the Queen of the West steams west up the Red River into Louisiana to look for targets of opportunity, on its extended raid. Col. Charles Ellet, in command of the Army-derived crew, spots a large Confederate supply train laboring along a highway on the riverbank. Ellet demands the surrender of the wagon train, and the Rebel teamsters comply. The Federals destroy the entire train and the provisions it carries. The Queen steams down the Atchafalaya a short ways to destroy a Rebel base at Simmesport, but finds only a stockpile of provisions—70 barrels of beef—which is put to the torch. Meanwhile, Admiral Porter, upstream, sends another gunboat to protect the Queen from the CSS Webb, the only CSN gunboat of consideration in these waters. The USS Indianola and two more barges of coal run downstream this evening. Only the Indianola has also been given an extra mission—an unusual one: to land at Brierfield, Jefferson Davis’s plantation on the east bank of the Mississippi, between Vicksburg and Natchez, and to raid Davis’s cotton and liberate his slaves, as well as those of his brother Joe, whose land adjoins.
—Today, President Abraham Lincoln turns 54 years old.
—The CSS Florida, commanded by Capt. John Maffitt, captures the Yankee clipper ship Jacob Bell in Caribbean waters on this date. The Jacob Bell carries over 2 million dollars worth of cargo, mostly Chinese tea. The Florida’s crew removes the clipper’s crew and burns the ship and its cargo for a total loss.
---In the Yazoo River Expedition—an attempt to find a water route through the Mississippi Delta region and establish a dry-land base from which to attack Vicksburg from the landward side of the city—is going slowly. The Rebels have found out about it, and are beginning to conduct operations to frustrate the Federal designs. Over the narrower waterways, the Confederates are felling trees to block the way of the Yankee gunboats. Lt. Col. James H. Wilson, of the Engineers, reports that “many of the trees reach entirely across the stream. Some of them, cottonwoods and sycamores, are 4 feet through at the butt, and will weigh 35 tons. To add to the difficulty of removing them, the country near the stream is overflowed. . . .” The gunboats are usually making only 5 miles per day.
|USS Forest Rose|
—In Arkansas, the USS Conestoga captures two Rebel steamers on the White River.
— George Templeton Strong of New York City writes in his journal of French overtures to “mediate” a peace between North and South:
Much talk of diplomatic complications with France. Louis Napoleon itches to have a finger in our pie, but I do not think he is quite ready to “mediate” or to “intervene.” It exasperates me to hear the talk even of honest and high-toned people about that scoundrel. They seem to consider smartness, cunning, and success a compensation for treasons, perjury, and all manner of wickedness; forgetting what an accursed thing it is to gaze “on prosperous tyrants with a dazzled eye.”
---Laura M. Towne, a Northern woman who has come to South Carolina to educate the escaped slaves on the sea islands, writes in her journal of a Federal regiment newly arrived that behaves very badly:
[Diary] February 12.
The New York regiment called “Les Enfants Perdus” were landed on this island, and they are doing all sorts of mischief. They take the people’s chickens, shoot and carry off their pigs, and when the people defend their property, they shoot the men and insult the women. They have burned a row of houses near Lands End, because, when stealing a man’s pigs, he fired upon them from his window. They met Mr. Sumner and presented a pistol at him when he ordered them off his plantation. They threatened to mob Mr. Hammond for trying to protect his people.